Friday, June 08, 2012

Am I Married to My Brother?

That question must be on the minds of a lot of folks in the U.K. now that it has emerged that the Barton fertility clinic in London, which operated from the 1940s to the 1960s, impregnated about 1,500 women from the sperm of a very select group of donors -- including the co-owner of the clinic, Bertold Wiesner.  In fact, Wiesner may have fathered between 300 and 600 children via sperm donation.

That stunning estimate is the fruit of years of research by Canadian Barry Stevens, a maker of documentaries, and Londoner David Gollancz, a barrister, who turn out to share a father -- Bertold Wiesner.  At the age of 12, Gollancz discovered that his biological father was a sperm donor; DNA tests finally uncovered the truth about his parentage, as well as 11 siblings, including Barry Stevens.  In 2007, DNA tests on a group of 18 people who had been conceived at the Barton clinic between 1943 and 1962 resulted in the discovery that 12 of them were fathered by Bertold Wiesner.  

The co-owner of the clinic, Dr. Mary Barton, was Wiesner's wife.  In 1959, sounding as though she were talking about a program for breeding livestock, she testified that "I matched race, coloring and stature and all donors were drawn from intelligent stock....I wouldn’t take a donor unless he was, if anything, a little above average. If you are going to do it [create a child] deliberately, you have got to put the standards rather higher than normal." The donors consisted mainly in a select group of Barton and Wiesner's family friends, plus -- obviously -- Wiesner himself.  Of course, the difficulties of tracking down the true parentage of all the people conceived in this designer kid factory will be all but insurmountable: Wiesner has been dead since the 1970s; Barton died 11 years ago; and the medical records have been destroyed.

At this point it is worthwhile to look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the subject of sperm donation and artificial insemination:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children." "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union . . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person."
And a thought much ignored in today's society:
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."
It is clear that, at a visceral level, David Gollancz gets the foregoing teachings.  He has drawn some good out of his situation by rejoicing in his long-lost siblings, but his feelings about his ancestry are mixed.  He says: "It's rather uncomfortable, because artificial insemination was developed on an industrial scale for cattle and I don't like the feeling of having been 'bred.'"  And Gollancz is campaigning for a change in the law to abolish the anonymity of sperm donors.  "Most recipient parents don't tell their children they are conceived this way, meaning they would never know to search for a donor father.  People have a right to know about their own history."

Children have a right to know their own history.  Children have a right to be conceived in love and self-giving, and treated with the dignity due to a human being.  Children have the right not to be treated like a commodity.  And they have the right to know who their close relations are, so as to avoid marrying their own siblings.  That's why the mean old Catholic Church declares sperm donation and artificial insemination to be gravely immoral.  Maybe one of these days, the lesson will finally sink in.  

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